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How To Put First Things First

From the series Balancing Life's Demands

Is your “to-do” list too long? Do you have too many people wanting your attention? If you’re struggling to keep all the balls in the air, join Chip as he shares how you can put first things first.

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Message Transcript

I was a pretty new Christian, and I had this amazing opportunity to ask Howard Hendricks – he was one of my heroes and mentors – and I got to ask him anything I could ask, anything you wanted to ask him. And so, I grew up in a very dysfunctional church, one that didn’t teach the Bible and had a lot of hypocrisy, and then, I ended up in a small parachurch ministry, where everybody I knew, for the first three years I was a Christian, everybody, everyone got up and read the Bible. Everyone memorized two or three verses a week. Everyone was in a Bible study.

Once you got to a certain point, no one said it, but you just knew someone has helped you, now you need to help someone else. Everyone was in some sort of a mentoring relationship where I knew that Jerry was helping me, and I was helping the two guys on my floor and I was helping the two guys on my floor.

And so, we went from about four or five people in his living room, to two hundred and fifty college students in personal Bible study on a secular campus. It’s all I knew.

And then, I got out into the real world, and I met all these Christians that said they loved God – and by the way, I’m not saying that everyone needs to do all those things in that way. Please don’t hear that that’s a list of things everyone needs to do. All I’m saying is, all the Christians I knew were really…

I didn’t know there were not committed Christians and committed Christians. You know what I’m saying? It’s just, those are the only ones I ever met. And the ones before, that was a bad – bad scene, growing up.

And I remember getting with Prof Hendricks, and I said, “Prof, will you tell me something?” You know, you always ask – like, “Oh, Great Poobah of wisdom and knowledge.” Then, I got to really know him; he was just a regular guy, with lots of wisdom and knowledge. I said, “Why is there so much hypocrisy?” You know, once I saw it, I just thought, “Why is there just so much hypocrisy in the Church?”

And I’ll never forget, he said, “Chip, I think it might go to something like this: Most people live with two sets of priorities. They have one set of priorities that they have written down on a list, and, if you ask them, they sincerely believe it. God’s first, family, children, ministry, work. And they have that on a list.

But they have another set, and that’s how they actually live. And so, we have people whose lives are over here, and their list is over here, and we have this amazing ability to not see that they don’t line up.”

The reason why most of us live with two sets of priorities – I want to give you three reasons here just to get us going. First, we are deceived. We’re deceived. We honestly don’t see the discrepancy between what we think and say, and how we actually live. And by the way, it’s true of all of us. This isn’t like the bad people and the good people. This is, like, are you really, really deceived, fairly deceived, or just a little deceived? Right? I mean, welcome to the human race.

The second reason we live with two sets of priorities is we are afraid. Though we long, sincerely, to put first things first, we simply do not believe that God will supply our needs if we give Him the first portion of our time, our lives, and our money. I mean, “You don’t understand. I can’t squeeze in – I mean, I am overwhelmed, and you’re asking me to add fifteen minutes, or a half hour, or forty-five minutes to be with God first?”

It’s kind of like some of you looked at me like “Are you on drugs, man? Do you understand I got three kids? Do you understand I got six grandkids?

See, if you believe that when you give the first and the best to God, He will begin to clear things and provide in ways. So, a lot of us don’t put things first and don’t live by biblical priorities because it’s really an unbelief issue that’s rooted in fear. We’ve got debts, we’ve got pain, I’m overwhelmed, give the first portion of my money?

See, when you do that, it forces a chain reaction of, if you give the first portion, you think, Oh, now what are we going to do? You’re going to trust God. And if you’re not on a budget, you’ll probably have to get on one. You’ll probably have to figure out where your money is actually going. You’ll probably have to make some priority decisions. You’ll probably have to do some crazy stuff, like, “Well, I guess we could cut off that satellite, and maybe the cable, and you know what? I had no idea – we tracked it for one month, you know, three hundred and ninety-five dollars of eating out. Gosh, this is only half a month – how do we do?”

When you begin to take those steps, God will show you things. But see, we’re afraid. And so, and it feels overwhelming when we’re afraid, and so most of us, with this whole priority issue, we nod, we nod, Yeah, boy, I need to address that someday. Monday hits, emails hit, it’s got to go here, go here. And most of what we talk about, apart from some who say, “God, I really want to hear, I really want to change. I really want to grow,” it’ll be almost life as normal, two weeks from now.

The third reason we live with two sets of priorities is, we have failed repeatedly. Our sincere and honest efforts to put first things first in the past, lasted only a short time and ended with frustration and disillusionment with ourselves.

Let’s face it. How many have started on a diet and…not doing so well? How many have had a little card in our wallet somewhere that says “Fitness Center,” that we’ve actually paid for, and they’re making a ton on it, because let’s see, if it’s a hundred and fifty dollars for a year or two hundred dollars or three, and you go twice, that’s, like, seventy-five dollars a visit. They’re really doing well.

How many of us said, “God, I’m really going to start meeting with You,” and you did it for two, three, four mornings, and…right? And, you know, you’re human. I’m human. So, in those areas where God has spoken to us in the past, and we’re going to put first things first.

How ‘bout this one – have you had one of these? “I am really serious this time.” Right? “Hey, I mean, I’m really – hey, I am going to get in shape. I am going to walk with God. I’m going to start mentoring someone – we are going to simplify, we’re going to start – we’re going to get under control, we’re…” And maybe, for you obsessive-compulsive, super disciplined people, it lasts about two weeks, maybe.

And once you fail a number of times, then you know what you do? You just start saying, “Ahh” – one, we don’t say it anymore, and two, there’s this battle that goes on: Yeah, I want that, God. I hear that, those tools of my money and my time. I don’t want to go there. I’ve tried this before, and I failed, and I failed.

And so, what I want to talk to you about this morning is, I want to get very, very practical, and I want to talk about what I think is the secret, if you will, the missing ingredient. What it is. What is it that brings the list that I intellectually would write down, and my life is demonstrated and played out by how I actually do things – what is it that brings those things together, so they’re the same? What’s the missing ingredient to living out your priorities?

First, it’s a rarely used word. We’re going to go on a little inductive journey together, okay? It’s a rarely used word. Second, it’s a fruit of the Spirit. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. So, this missing ingredient isn’t something that you can do. It’s something that is a part of what you already possess in Christ, but it’s allowing the Spirit of God to produce this in your life. Third, it comes to us by grace. Whatever this is, this missing ingredient, it comes to us by grace. So, it’s not about trying hard. Most of you have already tried the trying hard; it doesn’t work. Four, we admire it in other people. When we see this in other people, we go, “Whoa, man, that’s neat.” We admire it. It’s essential for putting first things first.

A lot of people start well, don’t finish well, because of this. And the word – are you ready? You can just sort of swallow hard – the word is discipline. Some translations say “self-control.” If that makes you feel better, you can write in “self-control.” But it’s discipline. We love it when we see it in other people. We admire it. It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit.

Let me give you a definition for discipline. Discipline is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. By the way, that’s why workaholics can be slothful and lazy, even though highly active.

And all of us – have you ever had a Matthew 18 situation come up? Someone has sinned against you, or there’s an issue that you need to confront someone on –right? – and you wrote it down. God has showed you, you need to go talk to this person; you need to confront them. And all of a sudden, it just pops up over here, I really need to jot that note to so and so. And you know what? You know, maybe I’ll do a few errands first, or, you know…” We fill it in with all kind of – discipline is not simply activity. It’s doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.

And the proverbs give us the list of major sins that inhibit our lives. When’s the last time you heard a really great message on slothfulness or laziness? You know, call me anything, but don’t call me lazy, right? When I know what needs to be done, in my relationship with God, in my relationship with my wife, with one of my kids, in terms of where God shows me something, when I don’t do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, the Bible calls that “slothfulness.” And so, there’s a reason why we don’t get some things in line.

So, let’s get on the positive side of this. Discipline is the Spirit-empowered ability, given by God’s grace, that allows us to say “no” to the quick fix and the easy road, and say “yes” to the harder, but better way. That’s what it is. It’s not trying hard. It’s not button down. It’s not, “I’m going to make myself do this.” It’s not getting self-righteous and, No one else does this, but I get up early, and I do this, and I do this, I do this, and I’m rigid and legalistic. No, no, no.

Discipline is Spirit-empowered ability, that you get by God’s grace, that allows you to say “no” to quick fixes and easy solutions, and say “yes” to facing the hard, difficult things on the front end, in order to receive the richer, and deeper, and better. Titus 2:11 and 12.

You have it in a translation in your notes, and this one is especially good, because I like it. It says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation that has appeared to all men. It” – notice it’s grace – “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled” – that’s our word – “upright and godly lives in this present age.”

Couple of quick observations. First of all, grace produces discipline. And by the way, somewhere along the line, we’ve been teaching grace in a faulty way. We think “grace” and “no effort.” The opposite of grace is no effort. And that’s not it. The opposite of grace is merit. Paul would say, “Make every effort.” It takes focus; it takes energy. But it is the grace of God both to will and to work in you.

It’s the grace of God that helps me to say “no” to worldliness, but then, notice a second observation: It teaches us. What’s that mean? It means it’s a process. It means it doesn’t happen overnight. It means, like a child learns to ride a bike. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t stick my kids on the bike and go, “Okay,” – bang! – they got it. They learn. And how do they learn?

They do this – Bam! Bam! Well, I don’t see their parents going, “Get up right now! What’s wrong with you?” They’re just going, “Oh, oh, come here! Emmy, Emmy, Emmy, come on, ma-ma-ma. Come on. Come on. Come on. Okay.” And then, they take three steps, and they fall. And their parents are excited about – what? The two or three steps they take. And they understand they’re going to fall. It’s a process to learn.

Discipline is a by-product of the Holy Spirit. Listen to what it says in Galatians chapter 5:22 and 23. It says, “But the fruit” – singular – “of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there’s no law.” So, it’s the Spirit. It’s learning to trust by faith, allowing the Spirit of God to produce discipline in our lives.

We’re commanded – I mean, if that doesn’t do it for you – we’re commanded to live disciplined lives.

2 Peter 1:6 says, “And let your knowledge lead to self-control, and self-control to perseverance, and perseverance to godliness.” Discipline is the process that is learned over time, through training. It is not an experience. It’s not automatic, and it’s not about trying hard.

I’ll never forget, I had an assistant, a really bright young gal, that worked with me for about eight years, and she had never run a day in her life. I mean, she was not athletic, at all – and she decided she was going to run a marathon. And I’ve been working out for years, and I run about two miles, and it hurts my knees. Let me chase something, hit something, play something, but running just seems like, how can anyone do it? I admire you who do it.

I mean, here she is. She’s never done – she goes, “Oh, no, I – I talked to my friend, and we’re going to – there’s a training program; we saw it in a magazine.” I’m going, “Good luck, sweetie.” And “We met this guy who does marathons.” And I watched her, and she started walking, and then, she jogged so long. And all I can tell you is, about four months after she decided to run a marathon, she went into training.

And I can remember about three months in, and she goes, “Could I come in a half-hour late tomorrow?” I said, “Sure, what you got going?” She goes, “Well, I did ten miles on so and so, and I’m up to my sixteen-miler, and we’ve got to get up real early.” I said, “You’re going to run sixteen miles before you come to work?” And she said, “Yeah!” I’m thinking, You are like an angel from heaven. How do you do this?

And what I watched is, she ran a marathon without stopping, because everything she needed to run a marathon was in her body. But she had to go into a process of training, over time, to take that which she already possessed, over time, to develop the capacity to perform what was in her.

Are some of you kind of getting what I’m saying? All that you need is in you. The Spirit and the power, and the grace that raised Christ from the dead is in you. We must go into training. That’s why the writer of Hebrews would say, “By now, you ought to be mature. You ought to be teaching, but you’re drinking milk.” You need to be trained by God’s Word. And so, we’re going to talk about cultivating discipline as training.

Now, as we get going here, the dynamics of biblical discipline can be summed up in two words. Because at this point, I hope you’re saying, “I want that training. I want to be disciplined. I’d love to start time with God, or a workout, or mentoring someone, or getting my finances, or my time in order, but I’ve never been disciplined. If you could show me how to get disciplined, ooooh, ooooh, ooooh! I will do it! I want God to do it!” Okay. Say no more. That’s what we’re going to do. It can be summed up in two words: delayed gratification. It’s the key.

And I think of all the passages in Scripture that help me really get my arms around biblical discipline, it’s Hebrews 12:11: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Do a little Bible study. I would encourage you to memorize that one little verse. “All discipline” – self-control, same word in every passage so far, it’s the same root word. “All discipline” – notice – “for the moment.” Front end. This does not seem to be – it’s sorrowful. It’s difficult. It’s painful. “Yet to those who have” – what’s our word? - “over time been trained by it.”

I wish you could see the picture of my assistant’s face with the medal she got with her three friends, 26.2 miles later. Someone who’d never run a day in her life and accomplished an amazing feat, because she went into training.

And that’s what God has for you in your relationships, your marriages, your singleness, your parenting, your money, and your time. That’s what He really has for you.

Don’t believe that lie, well, there are other people that are more smart than we are, and there are people that are so much more holy, and there are people that are in such a different category. This is God’s plan for every one of His children.

I love the quote by the author and psychiatrist Scott Peck. He says, “Discipline is willfully choosing to embrace the painful and difficult aspects of one’s life first, in order” – listen to this – “to more fully enjoy and successfully achieve those relationships that mean the most.”

So much – we always focus on the first half – it’s sorrowful. It’s hard. “I’ve got to get up.” “We’ve got to get on a budget.” “I don’t want to do that.” You know, “I’ll never do it; I’ve failed before” – instead of focusing on – he says it’s willfully choosing to – what? – to confront the pain on the front end – why? – so you can get something way, way better on the back end.

Let me give you a high school illustration. You’re in tenth grade. You’re now learning how to write term papers. You have to write a term paper. And there’s a fifteen-page term paper that is due. You don’t know much, but they sent you to the library. It’s the old days, so you use 3x5 cards. You go and get on the computer. And you’ve got a month to do it and three weeks have gone by; you’re to your last week. And you say to yourself, “I’ve got to get on this term paper. I’ve never written one, and…”

And your parents ask, “Well, how’s that term paper?” “Oh, yeah, pretty good.” That means I’ve been thinking about it a little bit. Like, I do have my topic. That’s it. And then, they say, “Hey, how’s it really going?” So now, it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, and you did, at least, peruse where the resources were. For about five minutes.

Well, it’s Thursday, and you decide, Okay, Thursday, I’ve got to get this – I’ve got to start the term paper. And you’re at school, and someone goes, “Hey, are you going to the party tonight?” “No, I didn’t know there was a…” “Oh, man, this is an awesome party.” “Well, okay, I could do it Friday night.” So, you go to the party. But even during the party, in the back of your mind, this nagging, Fifteen pages. That’s a lot of time. A little knot in your stomach, but a little fun sort of makes that go away.

And you get up, and Friday, and then, “Oh, hey, did you hear about – you going to the game tonight?” “Oh, no, I can’t go to the game. I’m writing a term paper.” “Friday night, you’re going to stay home and write a term paper, you nerd? What’s with you?” And you say to yourself, That is kind of dumb. I got all day Saturday, right? So, you go to the game, right? And then, you get up on Saturday, Man, I am really tired. I think I’ll just get something to eat before I really get going.

Well, pretty soon, it is Sunday night. The term paper is due. You start about eight thirty, and you work until about four thirty in the morning, and you’ve written a very poor, twelve-and-a-half-page paper that’s supposed to be fifteen.

And here’s the point: You not only have a lousy paper, you didn’t enjoy Thursday night very much. During most of the game, all you could think about, when your team wasn’t scoring or you weren’t laughing, was what was undone, and you had this gnawing in the back of your mind. On Saturday, your procrastination – you had low-grade guilt that turned to high-grade guilt, and you told yourself, Maybe God will really help me, while you were at church and thought about skipping church to write the paper.

I’ve got news for you: There are people that live their whole life like that. And the stuff that really needs to get done keeps getting pushed out and keeps getting procrastinated. “We’ll get the finances under control.” “We’ll work on our marriage.” “We’ll really sit down and talk with one of our kids.” “We’ll address this addiction issue.” “You know what? We’ll confront that issue with our in-laws,” and, “Hey, we’ve got to set some boundaries and deal with some stuff.”

And you know what? It’s that term paper, and it never gets – and you just stay busy; you stay active. You love God a little bit. You do a little bit of this, do a little bit of that, and all the while, you never experience the rich “better” that God has because of that rare word:

delayed gratification.

And so, I would say the big question for us, how in the world do you develop it? If

delayed gratification, if that’s the key, how do you develop it in your life?

And the method of developing biblical discipline can be summed up in three words. Discipline is two words: delayed gratification. How you get it – the process of developing it. You say to yourself, What’s the training? Where’s the magazine that says if I run, jog a little bit, and then, the next week, I actually try and jog a mile, and then, after that, I go and, where, how does that happen?

You’re going to see it right out of Scripture. The three key words are advance decision making. The key to delayed gratification – if you are at the window and the moment where you know you need to delay your gratification, and you haven’t pre-decided what you’re going to do in that moment, about ninety-five percent of the time, you will do what you don’t want to do.
Delayed gratification, if that’s the key, how do you develop it in your life? How does that happen?

You’re going to see it right out of Scripture. The three key words are advance decision making. The key to delayed gratification – if you are at the window and the moment where you know you need to delay your gratification, and you haven’t pre-decided what you’re going to do in that moment, about ninety-five percent of the time, you will do what you don’t want to do.

Let me give you a biblical example, and if you have your pen or pencil, pull it out, because I want you to do a little Bible study. You’re going to see something very interesting about what the apostle Paul does.

Now, remember, this is a godly, godly man. Thirteen books in the New Testament he writes. So, I want to give you a little context. This is a guy who God has greatly, greatly used. But listen to some of his fears in his life.

He’s writing to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9. He says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way” – that’s a manner of living – “that you may win.” Circle the word win. “And everyone who competes in the games” – he’s giving reference to the Olympic games at the time – “exercises” – put a box around – “self-control” – that’s our word – “in” – what? – “all things.”

Application to the Olympic games and the people of his day: “They do it to receive a perishable wreath.” In the Olympic games, they actually had an Olympic village. You had to – talk about training – you had to sign up in advance. You had to be approved, and you lived in an Olympic village, and they moderated your food and your schedule for a full year. And you were in what was called “training”.

So, that was the commitment, long before the games. They’d do it, so at the very end, in front of thousands of people, they would take a wreath and they would stick it on your head to declare you as the champion, to get the praise of people. They do it; they go into training. They’re self-controlled. They rearrange their time, their eating, their habits, their focus, their family, to get a perishable wreath, “but we, an imperishable.” And he’s picturing the judgment seat of Christ and the reward for the sons and daughters of the King.

So, here’s his personal application: “Therefore I run” – notice – “in such a way” – what’s that? It’s repeated again. It’s a manner of life. How do I do life? How do I put my schedule together? What are my priorities? See, “I run in such a way” – notice – “as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body” – and the phrase is interesting in the original text. Literally, it’s a battering to black and blue. He’s making a little hyperbole, here – “and I make it my slave.”

In other words, my body’s not going to tell me I’ve got to go to the refrigerator. My body’s not going to tell me because I’m tired, I’ve got to turn on the TV. My body and my emotions are not going to tell me how to live my life. I’m going to be in control, by the Spirit of God, to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, so that I can have a wreath from the King of kings, that says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

I can have the kind of marriage that God wants for me. I can have the kind of kids who’ll say, “I wish I had a dad or a mom like that.” I can have employees who say, “Now, there is someone who runs a company God’s way.” Get it?

He goes on to say, “After I have preached to others – I buffet my body; I make it my slave.” He’s talking about the self-control – lest possibly “after I’ve preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

Not speaking of his salvation, whatsoever. Disqualified as, “You know what? I’m not in the game, not making a difference.” I mean, all of us want to say, “Well, Paul, are you kidding me, man?” I mean, right? By now, he’s probably got five, six, seven New Testament books written. “You’re one of our heroes. You’re the greatest missionary entrepreneur of all time.” And he realizes it never ends – the pull of the flesh, the draw of the Spirit; the pull of the world, the draw of the Spirit.

Let me make a couple observations, and then, I want to get this very practical. Notice, he has a clear-cut goal, verse 24, to win. Notice verse 25. There is a focus on the prize. He lives consciously, with a sense of reward. “There’s something I want to get. There’s something I want to become.”  Notice, verse 25 and 26. There’s a motive. And his motives are the eternal versus the temporal, right? An imperishable, versus a perishable. And then, finally, notice the personal application. He basically says, “I have clear-cut goals. I don’t beat the air. I don’t run aimlessly. I’m not jogging, here. I know exactly where I’m going.”

Second, he focuses on the reward: “So that I’ll get that.” And third, he ponders the consequences of, “What if I don’t do this? What if I don’t do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am disqualified for service?”

And from that passage alone, if you honestly, in your heart of hearts, want to learn to put first things first – everything from your money, to your time, to your relationships, to ministry, and to work – I will tell you, the apostle Paul is outlining for us exactly how to do it.

Advance decision making, we said, is the key. Notice, it begins with clear-cut objectives. Advance decision making is rooted in clear-cut objectives. Now, let me give you a couple examples of advance decision making. And by the way, again, sometimes when you hear people talk, we unconsciously think, Well, well, he said that. Maybe I should do that.

Maybe you shouldn’t. I’m going to give you personal, advance decisions I’ve made, that the Spirit as God has led me to make, so I can become who God wants me to be. If some of them might be helpful, great, but don’t – that’s how people get all messed up. “Well, you know, Chip, he’s doing it this way.” Well, good, you know why? Because he’s Chip! You’re Mary! Be Mary. Be Bob. You need to discern what God wants you to do. But here are a few advance decisions I’ve made – what? – so that I can get the imperishable.

I made an advance decision: I’ll be with God before I’ll be with people. That’s my advance decision with my time. “Hey, can we get together tomorrow? I’ve got a big business deal. We want you to meet so and so and so and so, and da-da-da…”

Okay. Advance decision: I’m going to meet with God before I meet with people. Boy, that really backs things up. But I just found, when I start getting with people, I get pulled. I need to meet with God first. So, I made an advance decision. So, I don’t get up in the morning when the alarm goes off, and go, I wonder what I should do today? I wonder if I should read my Bible and pray? I wonder what I should do? I wonder where I should – I’ve got a plan. That’s an advance decision.

Second advance decision: I will give the first portion of every check to God. That’s an advance decision. I don’t care what we’ve got in the bank, don’t have in the bank, and – man, I’ve pulled quarters out of the backseat. I’ve been a really, really poor guy at times in our life.

With three kids – then four kids. And no matter, we just decided, we pre-decided, by faith, either I trust God, I believe in God, or I don’t. He needs to have my heart. He doesn’t have my heart unless He has my money. And we’ve been on this journey of giving the first portion, and progressively giving more and more and more, because we want to. Because we actually believe there’s an eternity, and we actually believe there’s a reward, and we actually believe you can send it on ahead, because Jesus said so.

Advance decision number three: I will not buy anything we can’t pay for in thirty days. And I will say, yes, the exception of a house. Or some of you would say, “You know, hey, Chip, that’s good for you, but you need to consider this, this.” Great. Consider all the other stuff. I’m just saying, as a general rule, if we can’t pay for it, I’ve never paid interest on any credit card. Ever. After I saved up the first time and prayed and asked God, I’ve had cars for eight and ten and twelve years, but it’s been twenty-something years since I ever put a car on time.

You’d start trusting God and asking for those things – this whole deal of they want you to get a car every three years – man, you just lost about fifteen percent of it when it goes off the lot, and that whole leasing deal?

The most profitable part of Ford Motor Company has nothing to do with selling anything. It’s their finance department. Because they’ve got Americans thinking, For life, I’ve got to have a house payment. For life, I have a car payment. For life, I can go to Rooms to Go, and, hey, I don’t have to pay for any of the rooms until 2094, and no interest down. Everything on TV says – they don’t even tell you the price of things anymore. It’s just how much a month! For me, that’s just a decision.

I’ve pre-decided I will not view nudity of any kind. For me, not you – for me, I’ve decided there are certain ratings, I don’t care, I won’t see then. I just pre-decide. I’ve missed, probably, two or three really great movies that had a rating that’s beyond my personal convictions. I confess, I have missed a couple great movies. And I think I’ve dodged about a thousand. Because I’m just – I’m real visual, and I’m sensitive, and so I just…

One is, I will not be with another woman, alone, other than my wife. I’ve seen all these ministry guys who love God, they start counseling people. I’m a lousy counselor anyway, so that’s a pretty easy one for me.

But it’s even down to – you know, there’s emergency, the car’s here, my assistant… You know what? I made a pre-decision. It’s only six miles away. “You’re legalistic, Chip.” Okay, confession – I am! I am. On this one, I’m legalistic. But I’ve just got this theory: If I’m not with another woman alone, other than Theresa, there’s a good chance I’ll end with her!

And is it okay for some other people to do that differently? Absolutely. You do whatever God shows you. A lot of my pre-decisions are about my weakness, not my strength. So, what pre-decisions would God want you to make?

You know, my dad – I really saw God do a great thing in his life when he, it was really hard, World War II and became an alcoholic – a functional, loving alcoholic. You know, he drank all the time, but he wasn’t mean, he just started drinking beer about two in the afternoon, and about eleven at night, he was still drinking beer. And on Saturday, he started at nine in the morning and did it all day, but he was a nice guy.

And I remember when he quit. He actually quit, then came to Christ. Give it to the Marines, right? Errhhh! And then, he just made some pre-decisions. All of his buddies, he just said, “I can’t go to Pete’s Bar and Grill. I like hanging out with you guys, but I can’t go there and maintain victory.”

And we all have those areas. I have a very, very good friend who does not have Internet at his house. And you’re thinking, How do you do life? Well, he had a porn problem for two years. And he just pre-decided, “You know, other people – I can’t! I just can’t have it in my house.”

But if you want to be disciplined, you have to make some pre-decisions, and here’s the key: Let the pre-decisions grow out of clear-cut objectives. My experience is, so often, what they grow out of is guilt and other people’s expectations, and this thought of, Why I ought to do this. I ought to be more this way. And you know, that won’t keep you.

You know that passage, “The world,” you know, “The children of darkness, more shrewd than the children of light.”

To get through seminary, I used to sell insurance and investments. If I made three sales, I could feed my family. I was full time in school and working full time. And so, I went out about three or four nights a week, and I went to the northern part of Dallas, amazing, luxury homes, sat down with this couple, and I learned something. I mean, I had all different socio-economic levels, but a lot of then I got the referrals – I was getting into the gravy land, the people that had some money. And I thought, This is really going to work out.

And then, I learned something: When people had a little window, and they made this much money, that’s what they spent. And then, when they made this much money, that’s what they spent. And then, when they made this much money, that’s what they spent. I mean, I just would pray, God, give me an engineer. Please, please, please, I want to meet with an engineer. They’re just so logical. I can show then this, this – they go – bang! – “Okay, let’s do it.”

I would sit at the table with people in luxurious homes and BMWs and a Mercedes, and this and that, and they were leveraged up to their nostrils, and they couldn’t make a simple change or invest the difference, and it was like…

And I remember sitting at that table, and I looked over, and this guy had on his refrigerator – I mean, a big picture of a black Turbo 9 – I think it was a 911 Porsche…uh…you’ve got to say it right? Porsche.

And I said, “What’s that?” He goes, “That’s why I do what I do.” I said, “What do you do?” He said, “I’m growing a business, making a lot of money.” And at first, I thought, Oh, how materialistic. And then, I thought, You know what? That dude’s smarter than most of us. We don’t even know what we want to do. He’s got a picture, a goal, a clarity, and it makes the rest of his life make sense.

I may disagree that that’s the highest thing to give your life to, but this is – this is Paul’s illustration! There are people that give up a year of their life, eat the same food, be away from their families, go in training for a year, so that they could get a little wreath on top of their head. Hello! He’s saying, what are your clear-cut goals?

I would encourage you to develop a “to-be” list. I know you do “to-do” lists, or at least most of you do. It was 1986. Obviously, Prof Hendricks of Dallas Seminary has had a big impact.

It was a brown-bag lunch. I was with twelve other guys. We were talking about life and ministry and being husbands and fathers, and what we were supposed to be, what we wanted to do. And I’ll never forget, Prof put these four words up on the board and then, he basically said, “Guys, (A), get grace down. God loves you at this moment as much as He’ll ever love you. Okay? Let that sink in. Gentlemen, you can’t impress Him. Reading longer, praying longer, effective ministries – it doesn’t change His love. So, what you need to do, first, is get rooted and grounded in that you are loved and accepted, that you are His son.” We were all men in the room at the time. He says, “Then, you need to ask, how do you say thank you, and what do you want to do with your life? What do you want to be? What do you want to be?”

And it hit me, because I was focused – accomplishments are about doing, doing, doing, doing. And I remember driving home – I can almost tell you where I was on the freeway, and I started thinking, What do I really want to be? I mean, out loud in the car, you know, talks with God? I thought, I want to be a man of God. That’s what I want to be. I want to be a man of God. I want to be one of those people God would say, “Chip fulfilled God’s purposes. Chip had a heart for Me.” And I thought, Boy, okay.

And then, I thought, I want to be a great husband. I want a great marriage. I want to be a great husband. I had three kids at the time. I want to be a great father. And then, I got kind of bold, and I thought, I want to be a great pastor. I don’t want to be an okay one. I want to be a great pastor.

And then I took my want-to-bes, I want to be a great friend. I want to be in shape the rest of my life. You know, I kind of had this thing where some of the circles that my early Christian experience was, all these people talk about God –it was like, man, they were so far out of shape and so disconnected from the world, and part of not wanting to be a pastor was, I don’t want to be like that! I want to be.

I put my “to-bes” on my calendar. For me. You can do it any way – To be a man of God, I’m going to meet with God, and I blocked off these mornings. And to be a great husband, it takes a lot more, and it’s relational. Okay? But I blocked off Friday, and I had a date with Theresa, and we had a three or four-hour block every Friday, all the time I pastored.

And then, I put my kids in my calendar. And then, I blocked off, Okay, all day Wednesday, half Thursday, my outline, I want to be a great pastor, I want to preach great messages. And then, like you, I can’t keep that.

And I was with Bill Glass in a prison. And we were sharing Christ, and one of the elders took me there, and did it a number of times, and just off the cuff, he talked about how your mind – whatever you think about, what your desires are, you unconsciously gravitate toward accomplishing.

And I don’t know why, I was just sitting at the table, and I was listening, and I was just a 28-year-old pastor, you’re sitting in the background, listening to all these heavy hitters and I remember thinking, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to write – this is an old card, 1986. It’s my desire cards.

And it’s, “Delight yourself in the Lord; He’ll give you the desires of your heart.” What if I started writing on cards what I want to be? That I knew for sure is God’s will. I’m not going to memorize them.

I’m coming out of becoming a workaholic after three years. I don’t want to memorize them. I don’t want to demand then. I’m not going to say they’re goals. I’m just going to tell God, “These are desires of my heart,” and then, I’m going to let Him sort of gravitate.

So, these are old, colored cards, actually. I was a little obsessive-compulsive. I put the family in one color, work in one color. So, sorry – some of us can’t get over it. I was making progress; I was in recovery, but, anyway, but let me just give you, and at night, I would just read these over, and then, during the day, now and then, and I didn’t feel like, and if I missed a day, who cares? But three or four or five times a week, I’m reading these over. “I want to be a worshipper. I want to enjoy God more, sing of His greatness, ascribe worth and praise to Him.” Because it didn’t come naturally to me. “I’d like to become habitually thankful, as a matter of unconscious response to all life’s circumstances and relationships, in light of the goodness and the sovereignty of God.” I just want to become – my unconscious reaction to everything: thank you.

“I want to learn to take time and schedule in enjoyable, fun, refreshing activities, without feeling guilty about them or what others might think.” You can hear me trying to break out of those “pleasing people.”

“I long to see each of my children hunger and thirst for righteousness and know deep in their souls how loved, significant, and valued they are in Christ, not because of anything or anyone.”

“I’d like to become more joyfully disciplined in praying for longer seasons of time and learn the joy of simply resting in and enjoying my relationship with Jesus.” “I want to stop caring about what others think and apply myself, my schedule to what will make me the best I can be, to honor God the most.”

“I want to be and grow free of the invisible expectations that I allow to hinder my joy, my freedom, my schedule, and for pursuing the best.” “I want to become more authentic in every aspect of my life” – 1 Corinthians 10:12, where Paul says, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” “I’d like to view others in light of their eternity and needs, instead of by their outward appearance, possessions, status, or…”

Do you get the idea? I know those are God’s will, and I’ve got others. We’ve had enough. What would happen if you did that?

If God says He’ll give you the desires of your heart, what if you wrote down what you really want to be? “I want to be a wife who…” “I want to be a dad that…” And I can tell you, as I would read these over – I just have to confess, I wasn’t trying to pray, but I would just start gravitating toward praying these things for my kids.

You know, one of mine is, “I want to be a model of the attributes of God for each of my children.” I mean, I want that, but, and then so when something would happen, and my anger or something – God would bring that little card. And I ended up apologizing to my four-year-old, and, “I’m sorry, and that’s not how God works, and this is how Daddy is, and…” Clear-cut objectives.

I learned this. I was a gym rat. I didn’t know what a workaholic was. I played basketball eight or ten hours a day, because I thought it was my ticket to being a somebody. And you know, look at me. I mean, I am 6’9”, so you can…and I’m really strong, right? I probably had a forty-five vertical – I mean, I’m a skinny, little white kid. Okay? And I know who I am.

And I went in the inner city for years, playing pickup with the brothers, to learn to get good. And I did those Pete Maravich drills until I could do this and do this, and throw it here and threw it here, and through my legs, and I did it for eight or nine or ten hours, because I had a goal: I wanted a scholarship – a basketball scholarship – and if I did then I’d be a someone. Well, I got a basketball scholarship, but that doesn’t make you a someone.

But here’s what I learned: If you have a dream in your heart, if you have a desire, once the goal gets clear, you know what? I was very disciplined. I never thought I was disciplined. It was my “want-to”. What do you “want to”? You want to be a great mom? You want to have a great marriage? You want to build a godly, great business? You want to be a great employee? You want to have great kids? Write down those desires. Get a clear-cut objective. And then, all of a sudden, “Yeah, a little sacrifice with our finances. Yeah, we can get on a budget.” Because it ties into the clear-cut objective.

Second is, then, focus on the reward, like Paul did. Imagine, picture in your heart and mind the success.  Reward yourself along the way.

When I did real well in something – it takes six weeks to develop any habit. Okay? Getting up in the morning, whatever. When I did real well, and it was hard to discipline myself, and all these pulls, I would reward myself.

All my years in California – I met this older guy, godly guy, wise, gave oversight to these big companies in the past, and he was my leadership guru. Every Thursday morning, if my outline was done by six thirty A.M., we played nine holes of golf. And the first two or three holes, we’d talk about stuff. Then, I would go through my message, and then, the last three holes, I’d give him all my leadership issues. And he’d put his arm around me, and had kids my age, and I’ve got to tell you, a lot of times, I was up at four in the morning at my little doughnut shop, finishing up my outline so I could be with Dick.

And then, if I did these things, “We’re going to treat ourselves, and we’re going to go out to eat, and guess what, yeah, we’ve been saving; we’ve been budgeting, but it’s steak all around! We’re going to have a blast!” And you know, “If we do this, Honey – da-da-da – we’re going to save up, you and I, we’re going to go away.”

Plan in some rewards and have a blast! What happens, you live with all this guilt, and you don’t know – and so we do too many fun things to escape stuff, instead of reward ourselves and enjoy what God’s giving us.

The key to discipline – delayed gratification. The key to delayed gratification – advance decision making. How do you make advance decisions? One, clear-cut objectives. Two, reward yourself along the way. Three – and this is very important – advance decision making becomes personal and a conviction when you ponder the consequences. Ponder the consequences. The apostle Paul says – he ponders: Without a clear-cut goal, if I don’t buffet my body – I don’t think he liked that.

If I don’t discipline myself, if I don’t say “no” to the refrigerator, say “no” to the emotions, say “no” to the quick fix, say “no” to that everything in me that wants to run from this marriage issue, to say “no” to delaying talking to one of my kids, to say “no” to sitting down and saying, “You know what? I need a day away to figure out, what am I on Earth for, and what am I going to do with my life?” You’ve got to say “no” to all the pressures, and then, give yourself permission and come up with a plan. Clear goal. Focus on the rewards.

And then, I remember sharing this with our church, and it’d be different now. I guess I would have to say “grandkids.” But one of my great fears is – just because I see people fall financially or morally – is, I have this picture in my mind of all my kids on a couch – and I guess now, the couch got to be really big so their kids. And bending over with my knees, and they’re on the couch, and I’m explaining to them how I really do love God and I have been preaching God’s Word for now a lot of years, but it was just a weak moment, and I’m really sorry, and I know I’ve embarrassed God. I know I’ve embarrassed the Kingdom. I know that everything I’ve ever taught you – this behavior and what I just did, and now it’s in the papers, and… And I visualize telling my kids, eyeball to eyeball – and now, grandkid to grandkid – that I blew it, and I fell. And it scares me to death. And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

You need to ponder – you know, you think of that one – raise the ante. Imagine what it’s going to be like when Jesus is sitting on the couch, and you’re explaining to Him why you didn’t have time to fulfill your purpose, and how you were going to get around to getting on a budget and getting your finances straight, and dreaming the dream, and discovering your purpose, but you just had too many emails to answer and too many committee meetings to go to, and too many kids to run around to all these activities. And I don’t know about you, I want gold, silver, and precious stones. I don’t want wood, hay, and stubble. But it takes discipline. That’s how you put first things first.